Interview by: Lawrence Scotti
After a close but no cigar affair at the LCS Spring Split Finals that had them watch MSI 2021 from home, silver medalists Team Liquid prepare for a Summer return. Equipped with perhaps the best top laner in the LCS in Barney "Alphari" Morrison — a praise sung by his head coach — Team Liquid will try to establish a second championship era for the team.
In late April, shortly after the Spring Split finals and before MSI, Inven Global sat down with TL head coach Joshua "Jatt" Leesman to reflect upon the Spring Split, understand why Alphari's laning phase is the best he's ever seen, and lessons learned from the bitter loss to Cloud9 in the finals.
Do you think there is anything specific to be learned from the last split because it felt very up and down?
We were doing everything pretty much the whole year online because Jensen and Santorin also weren't in the office until week four when COVID cases had kind of gone down to a more reasonable level in L.A. and we were more buttoned-up on some of our safety protocols. And then, pretty much right after we got them back into the office, we all left the office because Tactical got a false positive COVID test. So just tons of that type of stuff.
That definitely distracts you a little bit throughout the split and contributed a little bit to how up and down things were. You also have to factor in that you have two new players to the team from last year that you're you're trying to get comfortable with and find a place to play with. And then, the [schedule] compression is going to make things feel more consistent because everyone playing more games than in previous years. Everything combined made for a really tumultuous season.
I think some of that was seen because it was obvious you guys were dominant. You won the Lock-In tournament and then you had a strange, up-and-down season. Let's talk about Alphari a little bit. How do you feel about his first season with the team and coaching him?
He's insanely talented and he's actually really good to work with. I think a lot of people also don't realize how young he still is. He was in Worlds playing against SKT when he was 17. He has a lot of experience, but he's still in his early 20's. He's still incredibly talented, but also has a lot of room to grow. His laning phase is kind of the best I've ever seen for top lane. It's really incredible how well he knows match-ups and he puts a lot of work into that as well. He's been a great pleasure to have.
That was my next question. He is such a savant when it comes to laning. I don't know if you saw this number, but apparently, he broke the record for highest gold differential for a laner in LCS history.
It wouldn't surprise me. I haven't seen that stuff myself. Yeah, that wouldn't surprise me.
So at 10 minutes, he averages +493 in gold on his lane opponent. I don't know if you see anything specifically out of him in the laning phase that he does that just outclasses his opponents.
That's the thing. It's like he knows the limits of the matchups that he plays and on stage, that usually manifests. [...] I think part of that is because he practices and thinks about it maybe more than other people and he is also able to translate that into execution. So he knows when each champ should have an advantage and the right runes and masteries to manipulate those advantages. He just literally churns out the whole laning phase on all his champs and knows how to repeat it. It's very impressive
I'm sure he's taken the loss to Cloud9 pretty hard, considering he's someone that cares so much about winning. Have there been any more conversations about what went down in that series?
Yeah, I talked with all of our players not only about the series but also about the spring split as a hurdle, in order to get everyone's thoughts on how we can improve and learn from it and also capture the things that we're good at. Because we were good at various points, [we were] a couple of team fights away from winning at all. So it's about not changing too much, but also trying to figure out exactly what went wrong.
And yeah, Alphari and I obviously have discussed what happened in the Cloud9 series. I thought he played pretty well actually outside of the laning phase, but I think Blaber found a lot of really good windows to punish him.
What do you what did you learn from that last series that maybe will help you guys moving forward into next season and try to win the title?
I'll say our commitment to learning dominant strategies, even if they're slightly against our comfort zone. And this was through the TSM series, as well as the Cloud9 series. We drew Seraphine bans in both series for pretty much every game, and we also had a really dominant performance on Senna/Tahm Kench against TSM. And those were not things that we couldn't do early in the split, we put a lot of time into mastering them.
Cloud9 and TSM were unable to do it to that level because, I think at least on that patch, 11.5, Seraphine was very much like a first-pickable champion, if you know it. But neither Cloud9 nor TSM were confident enough to do it, and we were, which is why they were banning it every game. Our commitment to really grinding on those picks and really understanding exactly where they work will continue. And it's going to make it harder and harder to attack against us, as long as we can play those really top-tier champions that do require a different mindset.
But it's not just champions. There are certain champions that change the way your team has to play around it. And those are the ones that usually have the most resistance before getting adapted to. Senna/Tahm Kench is one, for instance. Because your AD carry has to ward, it's really hard for the team to start playing around it properly. And then Seraphine as well. Basically, having this support in the mid lane changes the way you play as well. So it takes a while, but I think we did a good job picking those up throughout the playoffs.